A solo Journey
from HolyHead to Howth
|Gordon Parker - Howth YC
Dun Laoghaire 1999
Helmed by Gordon and crewed by Graham Wilson once of Alar
Solo to Howth Summer 1992
a single handed journey by Gordon Parker
Folkboat week at the Menai
Straits had been a marvellous week of sailing. The 21st July found me without a
crew swinging on a Holyhead mooring, basking in beautiful sunshine, wishing that the
preparations were made. That morning I checked the rigging, removed the courtesy flag
which had been fouled up high in the mast, re-rigged for solo sailing and was happy that
all was in perfect order, genoa was hanked on and lashed ready for use.
Below all un-required items were secured for I like everything to stay in its place. Put
the shaving mirror beneath the engine to give it a thorough check, dipped the oil, checked
the fuel lines, made sure all the double protective covers were in place, to protect from
abrasion. Checked the diesel tank and filled from the spare containers, greased the stern
gland and re-stowed the stern locker contents with the bailing bucket easy to reach, hatch
Time was moving fast. It was now afternoon and time for a snack. I still had to check the
battery, and its terminals, navigation lights, row ashore to top up water and spare diesel
containers, walk to the supermarket and call into the Coastguard Station for a weather
briefing. Phone home to Dublin. Prepare a stew, snacks, boil water to fill the flasks for
The sun was now low over the breakwater. The echo sounder was given a new lease of life
with fresh batteries, and the Decca was programmed. The charts were put in order of need.
Clearing lines, bolt holes, and passage plans were ready. Dinner was scoffed. I switched
on the TV for the 2125 weather, still looking good for tomorrow. Secured the TV, set the
alarm clock and hit the bunk exhausted.
Morning came with a shrill.
Dazed with the impact of its arrival, fumbled for the radio "on" switch and
scribbled the contents of the early morning shipping forecast. The weather window, was a
little smaller, Can I do it? Can I make it?
Out of the hatch I went, the
air was still and the sun was the sole possessor of the sky. The big decision had been
made. I sail at 0800 with the RTE forecast. Meanwhile on with BBC longwave, on with
channel 16, Decca behaving well, engine on, sailing clothes on, and breakfast things
tidied away. Into the cockpit lockers on each side went the sandwich containers, with
tomatoes, boiled eggs, rolls, fruit, and Bewley's Eccles cakes. Into my shirt pocket went
a miniature transistor radio.
The Irish forecast came and
gave confirmation of the reducing window, but I had been up three hours and what was I
going to do for the rest of the day?
I dropped the mooring, motored over to Folkboat Orla and returned her
tender. Waved my goodbyes to other sailors in the harbour. Raised the main and motor
sailed for an hour to catch the stream off South Stack Lighthouse at 0945.
Now with the full main and genoa drawing well and balanced, I went below to check the
Decca. Took compass bearings and checked the trailing log. On her new course Serenader
reached for Howth loving every minute of the steady southerly force three.
I settled in to an enjoyable spell of helmsmanship in the knowledge that if I failed to
pass my noon position there would be a pleasant return to Holyhead for teatime. At regular
intervals I took a back bearing on a prominent lighthouse.
Noon was decision time. The barometer was up three millibars over 6 hours, visibility
good, wind 3 to 4 and my position far better than expected. Delighted, the westerly
heading was maintained.
The 1255 forecast arrived and I ducked below to note the log and check the distance run,
for the yacht was trotting along at 5 knots and up to 6 knots for another hour. At 1400
the Decca was flashing alarm. The wind was a 4 and I was mentally calculating my ETA with
this exciting progress.
The ferry was dead on the bow,
bearing almost constant. I was about to bear away when two miles off, she altered course
and kept clear of her wind shadow. The frisky yacht was heeled to the gunwales and
remained so. Vision was punctuated by the compass, bow, and log; did I see 7 knots? The
hull speed was getting faster and faster, hour after hour. The horizon dropped out of
sight to re-appear. Log at 7 knots constant. Well heeled and the main spilling most of the
force 6 wind.
I have to reef down. How am I
going to do it? Do I need to? Maybe it will be all right. Between the horizons I was
getting an ever-longer time to think about a sail change. It was now 1600 hours and 7.5
knots was occasionally up to 8.
Forty one miles out of Holyhead, over went the helm and for what seemed long time the
Rostock Folkboat was sailing east, while I found the nerve to reef down.
Helm abandoned, headsails flapping, yacht lying abeam on to the seas, the small jib was
grabbed and carried forward. Clipped on, after a long slow sail change, I rested against
the forward stanchion and gazed at the oncoming seas. Moved to the mast and flattened in
the third reef. Standing on the coach-roof, tired after thirty minutes of sail changing,
was aware of looking up to the coming silvery lumpy sea. Reassured, noted the log, guessed
the wind at 5 or 6 backing, swallowed a boiled egg, gulped a juicy tomato and was back on
course at 1730.
With less sail the varnished Folkboat galloped faster, 8 knots and more. Another mental
ETA. Howth 2000 and in time for my phone call home. Log, compass, log, log, trawler was
it? After the next valley, log, NW trawler on the horizon plunging southwards. Trawler
nets how far astern? Alter course now or wait until collision speed is confirmed? Down
into another valley and the decision was easy to make. Sail easiest course through the
Hit by the wind on the crest, coming down heeled over, standing on the cockpit sides, I
gave the slack on my safety harness a few turns round the idle port winch. Sailing the
yacht fast, the trawler was soon far to the north-east. The seas were now getting steeper,
the old reliable log glistened 8 knots up the front of the waves which by now were just as
steep on the back.
Sailing on auto-reflex, helm,
compass, sea, log, helm, sliding off the back of a wave the stern screeched for a second
Alarmed at the sight of another wake emerging from the hull to the crest of the just
passed sea. I pushed the helm over and recovered in another valley. Sheltered boltholes,
with telephone, flashed through the brain. Wicklow offered easy access, Dun Laoghaire had
today the small problem of the Kish bank. Howth was preferred, Skerries if I could get
behind the wall, but I did not fancy a night asking trawler men to let me tie up.
Land which might be Ben of Howth on the port bow, a watercolorists dream appeared against
a pale cadmium watery sunset. Full of joy and relief at the prospect of being in by 1900,
and a fast passage made. I worked the helm and scanned the horizon for other landmarks.
There on the starboard bow the unmistakable lighthouse standing white and proud. Could it
be the Kish?
bowing the stream, riding the crests, spilling all from the main. Hugging
the windward winch with my left arm it was now a race for shelter. 1900
hrs came and with it a pile of rocks beneath the light, still northwest.
At a guess I was eight miles off course. The seas were increasing and
now and again got the sensation of exceptional elevation. Another thirty
minutes of this and the Skerries bolthole was off the list. To slip between
Rockabill lighthouse and the islands with short stern seas and opposing
stream was not for today.
Pushing on as fast as possible
to get shelter, Folkboat 467 closed the shore with water running along the coachhouse
roof, through the hatch and onto my bunk, as she sliced down the back of waves. The
electric pump worked like a dream. As I watched the distant, hazy Wicklow mountains
overlap Howth Head which closed Lambay Island, down went the sea. The wind continued as
before and Seranader was pulling out of the south-going stream.
Now ravenous, hardened in the
sheets and sailed for the anchorage at the back of Lambay. Radio crackled
wind reported 35 knots
" The intervening twenty
minutes gave me time to think of new possibilities. Closing the anchorage, freed off the
sheets and approached with caution on a flat water violent gusts. Too hungry to anchor, I
rooted out the pressure cooker half full of stew and devoured the lot. The flasks were
cold. In order to think, I needed coffee. With two dessert spoonfuls of coffee in a cup of
water, I soon felt like a light bulb that had just been switched on.
Attracted by a night in Lambay harbour, at 20:15 checked the tides. With an hour and a
half left of the ebb, Lambay, now drying out was off the list. Decided to push on. Two
long port tacks, through home waters and a super Folkboat was in Howth Marina before club
bar closing time.
I rushed to the phone, dialed, waited, waited. "This is Gordon Parker. I am
temporarily unavailable, please leave your name and number after the tone".